Thursday, May 8, 2008

Chapter Fifty-One

"What did you think of McLoud’s last segment?" Sissy asks Scott.

"It was a pretty good ending, kind of apropos. I’m glad he didn’t die. I’ve had my fill of that sort of story for a while," Scott responds.

Sissy agrees wholeheartedly as she packs lunches for Scott and James to take to work.

Despite some issues, Scott has had surprisingly little trouble retaining tenants in the properties he manages. While he is slowly reverting to the practice of accepting cash-only for rent, he still has several individual arrangements where he takes trade or work for portions of the rent. Because of his willingness to be flexible, and his ability to keep the utilities on, the units are deemed desirable within the community and he has a waiting list. He has even been contacted by the county’s housing assistance program. Scott isn’t sure how long this will last. There is a lot of empty housing out there. Most of the empty properties are in really bad condition however and a lot of it is being condemned. Squatters are being removed from properties that they can’t prove legal ownership to. But, eventually equilibrium will return to the housing market and it will be at that point that Scott and Sissy will know if they will be able to stay in business or if they will have to try and sell out. Some houses are already going on the auction block for unpaid taxes, both property and federal. Housing all over Florida is very mixed.

Rebuilding of infrastructure is primarily focused on the large, urban areas in hopes of stimulating economic growth. However, the state says that rural areas will be coming online in the next couple of months with coastal areas receiving assistance last, possibly some time next year at the earliest. This has some coastal property owners furious, but the State and Federal governments have basically triaged all coastal communities for the foreseeable future. The only exceptions to this are the large commercial ports, ports serving commercial fishing fleets and areas immediately adjacent to power and desalination plants. While the coastal areas were prime realty markets prepandemic, the government feels they are too vulnerable to storm damage and without insurance feel the risk of re-building is too great, especially with the glut of empty housing currently available. In other areas, towns built in known flood plains receive the same triage treatment. What this has done is move whole sectors of the population inland. Retirement condos on the beach are also emptying, if they had not done so already, for the same reasons.

As in other states, many Florida families are in some type of transition – financial or familial. Existing issues have been magnified, or minimized in some circumstances, by the pandemic. There is a lot of realignment of relationships. Economic pressures are forcing some extended families to move under one roof. The death of so many young members has led some families to splinter and disintegrate completely. Domestic violence incidences peaked during the pandemic but are now subsiding into prepandemic numbers. State-run mental health programs and mental-trauma units work round the clock addressing a wide range of issues. The problem is addressing these issues quickly and constructively so that people can still function and support themselves. The legal system, of course, is just as busy as it ever was and there is no shortage of in-mates to man the chain gains now seen on most interstate roadways and railways.

Disability and SSI are no longer the broad spectrum support programs they once were. Restructuring now requires that everyone work in some capacity to receive any kind of assistance, or even ration cards. People with physical and/or mental challenges must function enough to participate in the workforce in some way – thereby earning assistance on a sliding scale basis – or they must be solely supported by their family/social network. Those who cannot or will not participate in these wellness programs are taken into the custody and become wards of the state. They are then generally assigned to state hospitals where they receive court-ordered treatment. Most will eventually graduate out to assisted living facilities, group homes, return to their families, or will be placed in other supervised housing arrangements. While the surface the measures appear harsh, it is currently the only humane and fair way to deal with people that are unable or unwilling to help themselves thereby relieving the community of untenable burden of care issues. Legally these orders fall into the same category as laws dealing with individuals who are a danger to themselves or others.

Scott and Sissy have faced their own crisis and survived. It has been very difficult for Sissy to relax and allow the family to return to behaving the way they did prepandemic. This caused arguments with Scott as well as their children. Sissy just can’t hear the "all clear" sound as clearly as everyone else seems to be hearing it. As secure as Scott and Sissy’s marriage remained during the pandemic despite extraordinary stresses, the marriage came close to cracking apart when it came to dealing with the issue of Sissy’s post traumatic stress. . She keeps waiting for the other shoe to drop, for the next wave to be announced, for the next incidence of civil unrest. Insomnia and stress caused her to become so emotionally fragile that she finally broke down and called one of the phone counselors down at the civic center. It helped. So did talking to some of the other women in her neighborhood who were feeling the same way.

"Sissy," Scott begins hesitantly.

"Scott, really, I’ll be OK," Sissy tries to reassure him.

"Are you sure?"

"I haven’t had a meltdown in a couple of weeks. I know you and James need to go to work. I know Rose needs to go to her class over at USF. Sarah and Bekah have a play-date and Johnnie is going to the neighborhood preschool for that party some of the parents put together. If there is a problem, the cell phones appear to be working today even if the landlines aren’t. If I can handle you going out in the middle of the pandemic and taking trade trips with my brother, I can handle a few hours alone. I’ll do some gardening or something."

"Hey, I didn’t know you were going to be completely alone. Where are the girls going? Maybe I’ll just …"

"Enough Scott. I know I fell apart. I know that I still have some bad moments. I know it’s been very hard on you and I know you blame yourself for leaving me alone so much there towards the end. I feel bad enough about this happening. I feel like I did nearly everything right during the pandemic only to do practically everything wrong when it started to end. Just … just don’t stop trusting me, OK? It was really bad for a little bit but I’m better now. I’ve got to prove that I’m better." Sissy pushes out in a very tense voice.

"I trust you …" Scott starts to say as he tries to gather Sissy in his arms.

"No you don’t and I understand why. No, wait, let me finish. I need to say this once and for all," and she pushes Scott to step back and give her some space.

Sissy takes a deep breath and says, "I’m going to be OK. I don’t know when I’m going to be totally better, but I know I’m well into the process. I don’t know which has been worse, feeling what I was feeling or watching you and the kids try and deal with me as I became more irrational. I could see how I was acting, I just couldn’t seem to stop doing it. I know you have tried to understand, but I don’t know if you can, not really. You weren’t the one that stayed healthy while the rest of you all could have died. You weren’t the one running from bed to bed trying to take care of each of you and afraid what I would find the next time I made it back to that bedside, waiting for someone to breathe their last breath. Afraid to sleep or even go to the bathroom because while I was gone something could have happened, you all could have needed me and I wasn’t there. And later, you weren’t the one left behind as you escaped the house to do what needed to be done. That being said, I know it isn’t your fault. It happened the way it happened for whatever reason it happened that way. I don’t blame you. But you can’t understand what it was like to feel so alone and scared spitless that I was going to stay alone. I know it happened months ago and I know I should have dealt with it better somehow and I know because I didn’t deal with it better then I’m – we all are – paying the consequence now. But I am better. And I’ll keep getting better. And … I need some space to do my getting better. I love you and appreciate that once you realized how badly I was struggling and that I wasn’t doing it just to be a pessimist or get attention that you gave me the support that I needed. I truly appreciate that Scott … but I feel sometimes like no one expects me to keep getting better, that I’ve been given up on. Sometimes I feel like I’m being smothered or caged for my own good."

"That’s not how we mean to make you feel."

"I know. I really do know that, but … Look, its like I’m some mother hen. And, the fox has been at the hen house door for months. I’ve just barely scraped enough corn together to keep my chicks going. I watched my rooster take on the fox a couple of times and could do nothing to stop it. Then one day some other hen starts clucking that the fox has finally slunk away, is just gone for no apparent reason. Farmer didn’t shoot it. I never saw its decaying corpse. Everyone else in the chicken coop seems to be celebrating and getting on with their lives and I keep expecting the fox to crawl out of its den and go ‘Fooled you’ right before it starts gobbling my family up."

"Baby, its over. Its time to go back to our regularly scheduled lives." Scott tries to gently reinforce.

"So everyone says. But Scott, its not ever going to be like it was before. Too many people have died. Too many things have changed. Too many things are in the process of changing or still need to change. I’m back to the point that I can cope with that huge idea but it’s not easy. I wonder what the future is for our kids. What the future is for our business. Is what we are experiencing now the new normal or just a transition period? You know I’m a planner. I hate not having enough data to plan with. The idea of planning for the worst and hoping for the best just isn’t cutting it with me anymore. You used to be the one that was always stressed out and on pins and needles and now you seem to be thriving and in your element. I just don’t get it."

"I don’t know how I’m doing it. Maybe I changed during the pandemic too," Scott says.

"Yeah, but why did you get to change for the better and I seem to have changed for the worse. And right when you and the kids need me to be strong," Sissy whispers heart brokenly.

"Honey, oh man," and this time Scott does manage to gather Sissy into his arms and keep her there. "We don’t blame you for not getting sick. We don’t blame you for whatever you are going through now. I guess we haven’t dealt with things at this point as well as we were giving ourselves credit for doing. I know James is confused about the future and Rose can only seem to focus on things going back to the way they were. She refuses to talk about finding out which of her friends survived and who didn’t. Sarah and Bekah and Johnnie are just so excited to go and play with new friends that they don’t realize how lucky they’ve been. I don’t think any of us have appreciated the position you were in. If you need space, we’ll give you space, but don’t hide your feelings from us just to spare us. That would be as bad as when you did nothing but act emotionally."

"Scott, I’m trying. I’m really trying. Its like all the fatigue I couldn’t let myself feel has finally just broken through and I’m just so tired physically and mentally. The counselor down at the center had me get that physical and you heard what the doc said. Between losing all the weight, dealing with the sudden lifestyle changes, the emotional issues from when you and the kids were sick, my family’s history of health problems and everything else, he said I was in better shape than I had any right to be. I had been wound so tight for so long I could have snapped rather than just become unraveled."

"That scared the hell out of me when he said that. That’s when I really admitted the problems were legitimate and not just some figment of your imagination. I’m still trying to find a source for that blood pressure medication he wanted you to take."

"The behavioral therapy techniques have helped so its not as bad as it was. So has changing my schedule and getting more sleep. But I didn’t mean to bring all of that up again. I just need you to see that I’m getting better and that you don’t have to have someone babysitting me 24/7. I don’t want to be a burden."

"The last thing you are to me is a burden. I’m scared of losing you too you know. Of not being able to provide for you and the kids like I did before."

"Scott, we are so much better off than a lot of other people out there. You’ve worked so hard …"

"We’ve worked so hard," Scott interrupts.

"Yeah. OK. We’ve worked so hard to get where we are at. Is it possible to feel guilty about not feeling guilty about that? I just can’t seem to feel bad because we’ve got so much when we could have so little. I’m thankful for everything we have. My problem seems to stem form the fact I’m afraid things won’t stay this way."

"I worry about the same thing Sissy, but for me it’s a motivator rather than a paralytic."

"I know. I appreciate that. I just … I just feel ashamed that … " Sissy tries to push out.

"No. You look at me right now lady. You have nothing, NOTHING, to be ashamed of. You have been there for us from before the beginning. By prepping in the first place. The gardening stuff. Making do when there wasn’t much to do anything with. Continuing to school the kids and trying to keep some normalcy for us. Being there for me every time I was ready just to give up. Now its your turn. I just wish that we – I – would have recognized that sooner."

"Oh Scott, I don’t know where I’d be if I had lost you or one of the kids."

"So don’t. Don’t think about it. It didn’t happen. You didn’t lose us. And thank God we were able to get help before we lost you. We’re all still together. Just keep that in mind when you start to panic or get depressed."

"I’m trying Scott. I really am. And I’m winning the battle. I’m just so tired of the war," sissy sighs as she gives Scott another hug before forcing herself to stand up straight and push him out the door to where James has been waiting patiently.

"Mom?" James asks uncertainly after seeing the look on their faces.

"No son. Go to work with dad. I’m fine. Daddy and I were just talking. Don’t worry," Sissy tells James.

As James looks back and forth between his parents he asks, "Are you sure?"

"Sweetheart I’m fine. Really. Every day gets better. I need to prove to you guys, and myself, that I can do this. I had to learn how to let you guys go. You’re going to have to learn to let me stand alone when I need to."

"OK," James replies uncertainly, but a thoughtful frown remains on his face and Sissy can see him start talking to Scott as the van pulls out of the drive way and heads down the block to pick up Barry and Tom.

Sissy hasn’t exactly relaxed her vigilance, but she has leaned to relax her need to control her family’s lives down to the last detail and "personal exposure." It will take much longer though for her to find the same sense of nonchalance that she had before the pandemic, if she ever does. Her involvement in her husband’s businesses has helped as much as anything primarily because she has less time sit at home and brood. Her personal confidence level is rising exponentially now that she has more balance in her life and activities.

For his part, despite Sissy’s best attempts to change him, Scott is as much of a workaholic as ever. Even more so now that his skills are in such high demand. Being able to stay in business during the pandemic has given him an economic edge over those just trying to restart their business or start a new one.

In addition to the property management and maintenance businesses that Scott runs, he has started three other ventures. The biggest is a "recycling" business where he and a crew go in and take out old fixtures, furniture, belongings, etc. from abandoned or foreclosed buildings. The maintenance arm of his businesses can then go in and replace and repair any damage, if contracted to do so, so that a new family or business can move in. To go along with this there is a medical disposal business which is sometimes called in to remove bedding, furniture, or other potentially contaminated items when corpses of humans or animals are found.

The last enterprise is primarily managed by Sissy. She is helping to identify potentially exploitable local food sources and then provide cooking instructions and recipes to maximize nutrition and quality. There is little cash income in this last business, but there is a wealth of community networking and a healthy plant exchange that occurs between co-op members. In fact, the group has grown so quickly that they will begin meeting in the parking lot every other Saturday, across from the post office. They’ve also gained several sponsors including the grocery store that is in the same strip center as the post office, several neighborhood watch groups, and a new thrift store that opened in the same strip center.

The thrift store just happens to be the storefront for Scott’s recycling business. They are trying to keep their businesses from becoming too incestuous, but it isn’t easy. They don’t want to rebuild the faulty just-in-time supply and demand system of the past. But, there are still far too many people waiting for the "other person" to rebuild things to the way they were before. Not everyone has woken up to the need for more diversification of efforts yet. Not everyone realizes that things won’t ever be quite the way they were before as too many lives were changed; too much infrastructure damaged and shown to be vulnerable. Too many of the mega mart type stores have closed. The era of the small business has at least partially returned. Not everyone, however, is ready for the work and changes that entails.

Scott and Sissy’s children are slowly easing back into their public lives as well. Rose continues to go to college, though she is now adrift on what she wants to major in. Opportunities have narrowed in some fields and widened in others. James is very involved with Scott’s businesses and contemplates not going to college at all, at least when he isn’t within his father’s hearing. Sarah, Bekah, and Johnnie are slowly getting involved in social outlets. Neighborhood parents have formed both a Girl Scout troop and a Cub Scout troop and the kids meet weekly to work on various projects and socialize. Another parent has taken it upon themselves to start a track and field club to slowly rebuild muscles and stamina that the kids lost by having to stay indoors or in their yards so much, and especially for those that were ill and those still recovering their health. Area churches are finally meeting in their sanctuaries again, assuming the building is still usable, and are offering youth programs of their own.

Out in the community long term care is a very hot topic. Some pandemic flu victims will likely suffer long term consequences from their illness including respiratory weakness and in a small percentage some mental challenges. Nursing home issues didn’t just go away either. Florida’s older adult population suffered a significant number of collateral fatalities but there are still a lot of people of all ages who need assisted living options. The key problem is that there is a smaller pool of working aged people available to hire from to staff such facilities. Healthcare workers suffered a very high fatality rate, so trained staff is at a premium. Thus far, the only available alternative is in-home care. Several work-for-food programs are creating on-the-job training experiences to address this desperate health care need.

Scott and Sissy are well aware of how fortunate they are that no one died in their immediate family, though they’ve had close calls. Sissy’s eldest nephew was removed from his mother’s custody after too many curfew infractions and was sent to a juvenile living facility where he caught the pandemic flu. He is recovering, but it is a slow and painful process and his personality has undergone a lot of changes. Whether those are emotional issues or side effects of the panflu is uncertain. The boy’s mother and maternal grandparents are among the thousands of people that are missing and unaccounted for. Sissy’s brother found both houses abandoned and gutted with no sign of what occurred. Their names do not show up on the fatality rosters, but may be any of the Unknown Doe’s on the records. For now he has applied for permanent and sole custody despite the boy’s continued resistance. Until a final determination is made, he’ll remain a ward of the court and continue to remain locked in at the juvenile detention center where he is currently being cared for. "There’s nothing else I can do. At least he is getting medical treatment," is all that Sissy’s brother will say on the subject.

Many families did lose members. There are so many single parent families that an interesting dating phenomena has been created. Instead of two people going out on a traditional date to get to know one another, family groups come together for social interaction. The kids have as much input into a parent’s choice of partners as the parent themselves do, some even going so far as to interview prospective mates for their parents. By and large though, people are still going through survivor’s guilt and grief for their loved ones. But needs must be met at times and some adults move in together more for survival than sex, though birth rates do appear to be on the rise.

Sissy intends to keep up with her gardening though she gets more help from the younger kids these days since Rose and James are either working with their father or going to school. She tries to plant or harvest something every day if possible as a hedge against the hard economic times they still face. She is able to change some of the ways that she does things though. She doesn’t have to bring as many plants in and out as they once did. Wider food availability has helped some with theft by marauders and so has putting people back to work in the work-for-food programs. Larger quantities of food are being grown and distributed and with fewer people on the street with nothing to do, there is less time and energy for illegal activities. Not all areas of the country are seeing this effect, but come Spring it is hoped that more of the civil unrest and lawlessness will calm.

Most food being grown will remain local for at least another year or two as markets are challenged to grow and redefine themselves. This is known as the "locavore" phenomena. Wheat-based products will be much more expensive in the south. In the north and Midwest, citrus and tropical fruits will be luxury items. Replacements for the nutrients in foods no longer common will need to be cultivated to fit local growing zones. Milk and milk products will need to return to more local production every where. Former city and county parks are being used as grazing areas by families trying to keep a cow or goat or two for this purpose, as most yards are too small and are given over to dooryard gardens. An interesting program being tried is that families can buy shares of a local herd’s milk production, similar to a co-op. Scott and Sissy are participating in just such a program where a small herd of milk cows are being grazed on the green space at Nye Park, just down the street from their home. They’ve received milk, cream, and butter thus far and hope for cheese in the coming months.

There are still no eggs on the market and many places have renewed their restrictions against raising and/or housing domesticated avian species. But broadcast news has leaked reports of several disease-resistant chicken varieties being bred at Federal facilities for distribution later in the year.

"Hey Hon, we’re home!" Scott calls out to Sissy as James and Rose follow him inside the house. Sarah, Bekah, and Johnnie come running and immediately start telling him what a fun day they had.

As Scott tries to listen to all three of them at once he is looking around for Sissy who still hasn’t shown up. "Whoa guys, one at a time. I take it you had a good day."

"Yes sir! We …" all three kids answer together.

"OK kiddoes, you all save it for dinner and I can hear all about it then. Smells like Momma baked bread and something with lots of garlic in it, but where’s Momma?" Scott asks beginning to get concerned.

"Momma said it was an Italian Vegetable Casserole and I helped make it," says Bekah.

"Well, I helped bake the bread, which was harder," retorts Sarah who is going through a competitive phase.

"OK, but where’s Momma?" Scott asks once again, just beginning to lose his patience.

"Out thide gavering," lisps Johnnie, eager to show off his knowledge.

Its takes Scott a second to translate Johnnie’s words into "outside gathering" and just as he heads to the backyard to check on Sissy she walks inside with a basket on her arm.

"Hey, you’re home early!" Sissy exclaims with happy relief.

"Yeah, we finished out the last of that strip center. We lost the painting contract though. The county is having another crew start on that tomorrow. They want to open it as a ‘K through 8’ school next week so they can drop a school bus route."

"I thought we had that contract locked down," Sissy states with surprise.

"Apparently no, but its OK. They have two other strip centers they want me to start on as soon as possible and we got some pretty good stuff from this clean out," Scott replies without concern.

"Yeah, you said there was a plumber, an air conditioning business, and a auto parts dealer all under one roof."

Scott adds, "Plus a small import business, a deli, and a dentist’s office. The mess wasn’t too bad. I cherry picked through everything for the store and I’ve got quite a bit of stuff for us too. But even after Barry and Tom took what they needed or wanted there was still a ton of stuff leftover to deal with."

"They were saying on the Noon Show that the landfill is full. What are you going to do with it?"

"Well, that report isn’t strictly true. The landfill is still accepting biohazard materials at the incinerator from licensed companies and I can usually slip some carpet and flooring in with those loads. And of course they are still taking all of the recyclables like metals, tires, and glass."

"But what about broken furniture that Tom can’t fix and that sort of thing?" Sissy asks.

"Anything wooden gets broken down into lengths. Then we bundle it and stick it by the road and its usually gone before you know it. Scavengers are starting to circle our work sites like vultures any more. That’s why I have to cordon everything off, use closed trailers for hauling, and set security details at all of the locations. The Scavs make a damn mess if they get in and start picking through everything."

"I would have though with those kinds of shops the whole building would have been gutted long ago."

"The place was pretty new and didn’t have those big showroom windows except on each end for the deli and for the dentist’s office. Store signs hadn’t even gone up yet. They only had banners and those ripped off long ago. The management company, from what we were told, came in and installed hurricane panels and dropped the roll down security doors right away. The place was a pain the butt to break into. Worse, we didn’t know what we would find once we got in. The county’s records were pretty limited."

"Are you telling me the shops were in pristine condition?!" Sissy asks in disbelief.

"No. Someone was getting in there somehow, at least at some point. There wasn’t anything except condiment packets and some seasonings in the deli, at least as far as food went. There weren’t any drugs in the dental office either. The acetylene tanks were gone from the auto place but whoever it was missed the smaller torch tanks at the plumber’s shop. Things were messy like someone had rifled through stuff, but it was probably just one or two people rather than a crowd ‘cause things were still somewhat organized. Everything was still locked down from the outside when we got there. If I had to guess, it was either a realtor with access or someone with keys from the property management company."

Sissy ponders, "Maybe one of the shop owners?"

"Maybe. I don’t know. Doesn’t really matter now anyway. No one from any of the businesses or the property management company, or even the lender of record, has responded to the county’s imminent domain inquiry in 60 days so they took it over for back taxes, etc. You know the drill."

"So you managed to still do better than break even on this job?" ask Sissy.

"Yeah, much better than break even. Even picked over it was a gold mine so long as we can find customers for the stuff at the thrift store. I also managed to score some brownie points on top of everything else."

Sissy’s curiosity is piqued as she asks, "For what?"

"Tom and Barry had the good idea that instead of trying to salvage everything for the thrift store or Tom’s used furniture and cabinetry shop, that we take unusual items and find a home for them free of charge."

"Well, that would certainly save the gas of having to haul something weird all the way out to the dump where they might not take it any way," Sissy concurs.

"Yeah it does. And Barry is finally going to start an appliance and electronics shop. His leg is just getting too bad to work out in the field anymore. We are gonna stock a store for him in exchange for him keeping our guns in good working condition and being our ammo contact," Scott says as he knocks his boots off outside the front door.

"I talked to his wife today and she told me. She is really relieved. She said it has gotten to where Barry is in almost constant pain from being on his feet so much."

Scott continues by revealing, "We took most of the dental equipment and the waiting room chairs to that new hospital annex over off of Fowler Avenue. We left most of the deli equipment in place so the school could start a cafeteria, which made the lady from the school board very happy. The condiments and seasonings we dropped at the local soup kitchen although I split most of the salt amongst the work crew as part of their bonus pay."

Sissy asks, "That where the brownie points came in at?"

"Yep. Hey, have you got time to come to the store and help do some sorting and stocking? Even with stuff going out as fast as it seems to do lately, the back room is overflowing with boxes and bags of items that need to be put out on the floor. James said he’ll help, but I’ve got to get on top of the paperwork. I’m about to drown in all the un-logged work orders, invoices, receipts, and everything else."

"Tomorrow is good for me if it is for you. Rose is going to be home all day so I won’t have to bring the girls and Johnnie into that chaos," Sissy answers.

"Sounds good Babe. How long ‘til supper? I’m starved!"

"As soon as you and James finish cleaning up I’ll have it on the table," assures Sissy.

After dinner where everyone shared what they had done that day and after end of the night clean up, Scott and Sissy see the rest of their family off to bed before heading that direction themselves.

As they lay in bed enjoying each other’s company, Scott once again seeks confirmation that Sissy’s day had gone as well as she seemed to say it had.

"I’ll admit that there was a moment or two when I dropped the girls and Johnnie off that I felt kind of strange and at loose ends, but it passed quickly. No panic attacks at all."

"Did you come home and do some gardening like you said?" Scott continues.

"I didn’t have time. I started off in that direction then kept getting distracted by people wanting a word or two. I wound up having to hustle to get back to pick the girls up on time and then all three of us had to really hoof it to pick up Johnnie," Sissy says with a laugh. "That’s why the girls had to get dinner mostly on their own and I was just coming inside when you got home. I was playing catch up."

"Sounds like it used to be; the kids going in five different directions while you played chauffeur trying to keep up with everyone’s schedule."

"Yeah, in a way I guess now that you put it that way. Except then I was carpooling in an air conditioned van and traveling at least 20 to 30 miles every day and now we’re all on foot and rarely go more than a mile or two from home in any direction. I’ve forgotten what the rest of town looks like."

"Trust me, you aren’t missing anything. Everything is still pretty messy despite work crews on some project or other every couple of blocks or so. You wouldn’t recognize a lot of areas any more. To be honest, I’m getting tired of working six days a week away from home even though I know I need to make hay while the sun shines. At least fuel is getting less expensive. I doubt it’ll ever be as cheap as it was prepandemic – and I never thought I’d hear myself call $4/gallon gas cheap – but at least now if you can afford it, its available," Scott quickly replies.

"I’ll ride one of the bikes up to the shop tomorrow and get started. Last time I rode with you …" Sissy begins.

"I still can’t believe you got car sick between here and the store," Scott snickers. "My driving isn’t that bad you know."

Sissy sputters out, "Don’t laugh, you goof!" as she tries to elbow him in the dark. "It had been over a year since I’d driven any where and for some reason the feeling caught me off guard."

"Look, give it another couple of weeks and maybe I’ll get your van up and running. If I can, then I’ll take you guys on a sightseeing tour of the city if you really want to see what is going on out there. Maybe we’ll make a picnic of it or something," ponders Scott consideringly.

"That sounds like it could be fun."

"Maybe, maybe not. But at least you’ll get a chance to compare now with then and you’ll get further away from home besides a few blocks."

As they continued talking and then began to fall asleep, one of Sissy’s last thoughts were how things really were getting better if they could actually make plans for a couple of weeks into the future rather than just a day or two at a time.

Even better was the plans that Scott and her brother had hatched so that Sissy could see her mother. Her parents were coming for a visit the next time her brother had a shipment through Tampa. She wasn’t sure how long they would get to stay but it would be at least a week, maybe two depending on the truck route they took. Sissy was so excited. She hadn’t seen her mom in nearly two years. It would be quite a reunion.

The next morning Sissy actually woke with something besides worry and fear on her mind. The sun was shining, there was food for the table, and there were plans to look forward to with pleasure as well as the means to bring those plans to fruition. She bounded out of bed to begin waking the rest of the house to the new day.

The challenges hadn’t disappeared and there was still more work than you could shake a stick at, but life was good and worthy of the effort it took to live it.